FORWARD, MARCH: “A friend of mine told me, ‘You should never leave your job until you have another job, otherwise you end up with nothing to do and turn into an alcoholic,’ so I’m scared of that happening,” said Alexandra Shulman, who resigned her post at British Vogue earlier this month after 25 years as editor in chief.
During a Q&A with Alexa Chung in London, Shulman said the decision finally hit her when she returned from the Paris couture shows last week.
Dressed in a salmon pink blazer by Bella Freud, the editor was at the Arts Club on Monday evening to discuss “Vogue: Voice of a Century,” a limited-edition book released as part of the magazine’s centenary celebrations. Shulman took the opportunity to reflect on her career at Vogue and admitted she had been mulling the idea of stepping down for the past three years. In the end, she decided to stay and steer the magazine through its centenary celebration last year.
“I thought, no way I’d miss out. Even when Robert Frank (the director of the recent BBC documentary about British Vogue) made part of the plot about whether I’ll leave — for reasons only known to himself — I didn’t consider it. This November, though, I felt happy about the idea — before it made me feel miserable and panicked,” she said.
In 2016, Shulman and her team celebrated Vogue’s 100th birthday with an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, a two-day festival where readers could attend talks and master classes, a gala dinner and an anniversary cover featuring the Duchess of Cambridge.
She plans to leave in June, and her successor has yet to be named. Shulman said she doesn’t have any set plans for the second half of the year. “I look forward to seeing time in a different way, and what the shape of life will be like, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it yet — definitely more writing,” said Shulman, the author of two novels and a diary of her life in the centenary year.
Looking back at some of her favorite images from the pages of “Voice of a Century,” Shulman recalled her most memorable moments at the title.
She singled out “So London,” an image from 1992 featuring Kate Moss on a football pitch, and said it was the beginning of grunge. “It was our first grunge shoot, following Marc Jacobs’ collection for Perry Ellis. It flipped fashion 180 degrees and I’ve never seen a collection do that since. It took the models away from the Versace glamazon image and onto the street, wearing beanies and sneakers just like us,” she recalled.
An image featuring models in Vivienne Westwood gowns surrounded by older men in embellished suits, from the magazine’s royal wedding issue in 2011, was another favorite. “That mix of staged and naturalistic photography is something I’ve tried to keep in the magazine.”
Shulman went on to talk about what goes on behind the scenes when planning a shoot and admitted to not always getting her way.
“I’ve never been a fashion editor, so I’ve always been more interested in curating other people’s work, which creates an interesting mix. If you see French Vogue it’s very much Emmanuelle [Alt]’s vision, and before it was about Carine [Roitfeld]’s vision who did a lot of the shoots, same with American Vogue, as Anna [Wintour] has very strong ideas about what an image should look like,” said Shulman.
“Every now and again I manage to get something that’s my idea in the magazine, but it’s a rare occasion. Usually people pitch to me, they have to explain to me why their idea will work, and I let them get on with it. I’ve hardly been on a shoot. Can you imagine 25 years at Vogue and I’ve been to about one shoot?” she said.
Touching on social media and the way it has boosted models’ careers, Shulman said that while the impact of visual platforms such as Instagram have helped unconventional beauties like Cara Delevingne rise to fame, the constant search for newness has also been detrimental to the industry.
“One of my great sadnesses is that we haven’t been able to build a lot of great, new models — and that’s a pity. We don’t have that many models on the cover anymore because photographers and designers are constantly looking for ‘the new face,'” added Shulman.
The editor also talked about change. She said she’s not a big believer in the idea of legacy, and she is prepared for the fact that Vogue will not look the same after her departure.
“When you leave, you should know that what you’ve done might change. You can’t expect people to revere your work. I just hope that the talented people I work with will have good relationships with whomever takes over. But I think they’ll start to do things differently,” she predicted.